A friend who writes a fairly well-known sex blog once chided me for liking ritual too much in terms of sex and encounters. I think she finds the whole idea of ritual vaguely dehumanizing, or at least something that's too cold. I've never felt that way. Ritual and formality have always been part of my love life. Mind you, I'm not especially talking about anything s/m there. I'm talking about something else altogether. I've always seen ritual as very much a social lubricant, a social buffer.
When I was in my teens, the whole process of dating was highly formal, highly ritualized. There were social rules that defined the mating dance, and they did make life easier. I've always liked procedures and protocols, and I do appreciate them for what they're designed to do: make things simpler and less awkward. Procedures and protocols are designed to get you from Point A to Points B and C simply, clearly, and without having to constantly re-invent the wheel.
I always think of the idea of the Mass here. There's the Mass, and there are highly formal procedures for how it proceeds. There's a goal for all the ritual, and that's the moment of transubstantiation, the moment when the bread and wine are suffused with the Real Presence. When the Mass begins, there's a defined goal, and everyone knows what it is. The ritual doesn't just stop midway through, and it doesn't suddenly turn into bingo night.
When I was young, dating had its own goal. You went out with a girl, you did certain things--- a film, dinner, a concert ---and the end of the evening was about making out. Dating was a mating dance. You weren't expecting to find your soul mate; you weren't expecting to fall into a lifelong relationship. Dating was a series of steps that ended with making out. It provided a framework, and provided steps that moved you along through and past awkwardness and insecurity. My memory is that both parties understood what was happening, and that both parties thought that being able to make out--- to just experience excitement and pleasure ---was a goal worth reaching, and that they were there together so at the end of the evening there actually would be making out. My memory of those days is that girls at my high school knew where the best places to go parking were, knew where to go to be able to make out--- and that they weren't shy about giving boys directions.
Procedure and ritual carry you along step by step. Follow the procedure and you don't have to think about things--- you don't have to worry and overthink and obsessively analyze everything. That's very much a way of doing things that needs to be valued. Know what the goal is, whether that's transubstantiation of the bread and wine or a lovely girl straddling you in a parked car and pulling off her top. Know the goal--- be part of a ritual, a set of procedures that will get you to the goal. These days, we all overthink and over-analyze. And we miss the charm of the steps toward the goal.
Both parties in the dating world were physical creatures back in my own lost youth. Even if you didn't talk about it, everyone knew about making out and that it was worth doing. When you asked a girl out in the halls at school, or when the girl accepted, everyone knew that you were attracted to one another, or at least found one another acceptable enough to be seen out with and acceptable enough for physical interaction. Dates themselves were designed to make everything...simple. Everyone understood why he or she was there. You went to some kind of activity, you went somewhere like a pizza place or a cafe afterwards, you made conversation, and then you went parking. No one had to agonize over what has happening or about what the other party was really thinking. There was much less pressure and anxiety than here in the new century. With even a bare minimum of politeness on both sides, the evening would go along well.
I miss dating. I really do. I miss the idea of the mating dance, of knowing that there's a framework for social encounters, that there's an understood goal. I miss a set of accepted steps designed to carry both parties along to the goal. The rituals of dating, like the rituals of politeness at a dinner party, are designed to keep you from having to re-invent the wheel, to keep you from having to constantly think and worry. I can't imagine why we don't see the value in those things.